This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'eira (5762)
This week's section describes the first seven plagues that G-d brought upon Egypt.
One of them, the sixth plague, was boils; everyone but the Jews got boils. The Torah (9:11) tells us that this plague was unique because "The (Egyptian) Magicians couldn't stand before Moshe!"
At first glance this is not so clear. It should say that the magicians couldn't stand AT ALL! Why does the Torah tell us that they only couldn't stand BEFORE MOSHE?
Even more: This could imply that only in the plague of boils they weren't able to stand before Moses…….. but the other plagues they were able to stand.
What was so special and unusual about this plague?
To understand this, here is a story that I heard just recently.
Some fifteen years ago a young Chabad Chassid was invited by a Chabad house somewhere in Russia or the Ukraine to make a Passover "Seder" in a nearby town.
The young man, recently ordained as a Rabbi, arrived several weeks before the holiday and went with the Chabad representative that invited him to the Mayor of that town to look for a suitable hall to hold the festive ceremony. They were expecting several hundred people and needed something big.
After a few minutes the Mayor decided that the only place in his town that would serve their purposes was the Communist meeting hall. It seems that when the Communists were in power, they made sure that the biggest building in every town in Russia would be their party meeting hall. The Rabbis and the Mayor went and had a look, and sure enough, although it hadn't been used in years and was in need of repairs and cleaning the place was perfect.
Posters were put up, people were invited personally, and food was brought and prepared. All the vessels had to be new, all the meat had to be strictly Kosher, the cooking had to be supervised constantly so that no one would bring "Chametz"’ (leavened bread products) or non-kosher food into the kitchen, and the building had to be completely cleaned, "koshered" repaired and decorated.
All the work paid off. Some three hundred people arrived! Young and old, men and women, all dressed in their nicest clothes and with shining faces. Some came because of nostalgia, some from curiosity, some for a good time. But everyone came because they were Jews and tonight was Passover.
It took a while to get everyone seated and settled. The new Rabbi made a short welcoming speech, with a translator to help him, telling them what to expect. For some of them it was their first "Seder" in fifty years, and for many the first in their lives. Hagaddas (Seder books) translated into Russian were handed out, cups were filled with wine, Matzot were distributed, and the evening began.
Everyone did what they were told with joy, and listened to the Rabbi's explanations with great interest as they read aloud from their books about how G-d did great miracles thousands of years ago to take the Jews out of Egypt. They all ate the Matza, drank four cups of wine, finished their holiday meal, sang, and even danced a bit when the Rabbi told them to.
Everything went smoothly until the cup of Elijah.
This symbolic "extra" fifth cup of wine is poured at the end of the meal to remind us of the imminent arrival of Moshiach. The young Rabbi explained with enthusiasm how this fifth cup stood for Moshiach who will arrive any moment to gather all the Jews and make a beautiful new world with the revelation of G-d everywhere etc.
The crowd just looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Slowly one of the older men stood up, looked around, looked at the Rabbi and said in a booming voice, "Excuse me please young Rabbi!"
The place went silent and all eyes were on the new speaker. He waited a few seconds and continued.
"We are very grateful to you for this beautiful evening with the wonderful food and wine. Everything is very nice. Very beautiful and very tasty. Correct?" He turned to the crowd. Everyone in the room turned to one another, then back to the Rabbi and shook their heads in agreement.
"Everything you said is also very interesting." The man continued. "Beautiful stories; The Jews left Egypt, G-d made miracles...very nice Bible stories. We all love stories.
"But what you said about Messiah coming and making a utopia, building a Holy Temple in Israel, gathering the Jews and all this. Please Rabbi, we are not little children that we believe such nonsense! We are grown up people. You are a very nice man and we appreciate all this, but please don't expect us intelligent grown-ups to believe these children's stories. Please understand us, dear Rabbi, nothing personal but you are a naive person. You have been locked up in Yeshiva (Rabbinical College) and we live in the real world"
Everyone again shook their heads in agreement as though to say "We are sorry, but he's right."
The young rabbi waited a few seconds and, before the man sat down, he replied.
"My friend" he said with a warm smile, "Have you ever heard of Communism?"
"Communism?" The man answered in wide eyed disbelief. "Of course! My whole life, until a few years ago, was under Communism! Perhaps I don't understand your question."
"My friends!" he opened his arms and looked around the room.
"Do you realize where we are? Do you realize what we are doing? Do you realize what you are saying!?
"If someone would have told you fifteen years ago that there could be a PASSOVER SEDER in the COMMUNIST MEETING HALL, would you believe them?
"Why, Fifteen years ago there was nothing more powerful in Russia than Communism, the big enemy of G-d, and nothing weaker than Judaism! And everyone in Russia was sure that Communism was right. But here we are! The impossible has happened! Communism has fallen and we Jews are celebrating Pesach in their headquarters!
"So is it really so far-fetched that Moshiach can change the entire world?"
The man looked at the crowd then back at the young rabbi, straightened up, smiled broadly and said..."BRAVO!!". And the entire crowd broke into applause.
This answers our questions about the plague of boils. The plagues were not just to destroy Egypt, G-d could have done that without any plagues. Rather the plagues had a positive, educational side to them.
One reason G-d made plagues, and so many of them, is to teach us how to free the spiritual "Israel" in us from our personal spiritual 'Egypt'.
"Israel" is the feeling of certainty that G-d not only exists but creates and cares about us. And "Egypt" is the certainty that we are basically alone and if there is G-d He is, at best, far away.
It's not easy to rid ourselves and transform that "natural" feeling. It takes a lot of work - ten "plagues".
Remember that the Egyptians were very spiritual people. The Torah tells us that they could even do "miracles" like changing sticks to serpents and water to blood.
So going out of Egypt means leaving the spiritual as well.
That was why the miracle of the boils neutralized the magicians. The magicians were spiritual people. They realized that Moses had greater spiritual powers than they, but they thought that they were playing the same game; spiritual versus spiritual. But this plague showed them otherwise. There was something about this plague that was higher than spiritual.
Moshe didn't just bring the plague from heaven. Here G-d told him to take soot from an oven, throw it up, and it would spread over Egypt and give everyone boils. (9:8-10)
In other words, Moshe here combined nature and above nature; one handful of natural ordinary soot traveled thousands of miles, covered an entire nation and caused boils. But it had to begin with that handful of soot; not just negating nature but transforming it to above-nature.
This, like the transformation of the Communist hall to a Jewish hall, is just the sort of thing that we must try to do with ourselves and Moshiach will succeed in doing globally.
He will show that nature, including human nature, itself is really above nature. As the Rambam explains in the end of his "Mishnah Torah" that Moshiach will transform this physical world to be even higher than the highest spiritual levels; the Creator Himself will be revealed in His creation.
And it all depends on us! Let's do all we can, even one more good deed, word or even thought to bring....
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